The Art of Tetman Callis Lit & Crit The backhanded compliment

The backhanded compliment

“It certainly does not do to have too low a threshold for being insulted. Even the affectionate insult, or the compliment with any sort of spin on it, can reverberate in memory in awful ways. ‘I love your little fat legs,’ Paul said to Joanne. He had watched her walking toward him on the beach. He was so in love with her that, although he meant it, he may not even have heard what he said, exactly. She never forgave him. She slept with him for another year and then married his enemy and rival, the only man Paul had ever hated in the world. ‘You have beautiful eyes and lovely hands,’ Leroy said to Jane, ‘and when you smile, to me you’re beautiful.’ She never forgave him, either. She married him. Their life together was hell for fifty years. ‘Has anyone ever told you that you’re lovely?’ is, of necessity, a minefield. There is no conceivable proper answer. It all ends in disaster anyway.” – Renata Adler, Speedboat

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